Sunday, June 1, 2014

Finishing as it started

Today is a beautiful still sunny day with a hint of southerly; and tomorrow promises to be more of the same. The same still calm weather that we had for the opening of the duck season. It's a bit of a drudge hunting in those conditions; nothing much flies and those birds that do get up go stratospheric. Yesterday I pulled the trigger for the final time in the Auckland/Waikato fish and game region; on a grey duck that came swooping down on the pond on one of those runs that are simply a fly-by without the bird being truly interested in landing.

I'd grabbed an extra day off to turn the holiday weekend into a 4 dayer (I'd hunt 2, and spend 2 with family); and had keenly watched the weather all week. There was the promise of some northerlies; enough to make it look interesting. I packed the car and boat and left at 8.30 for the 90 minute drive. With Rick already on location at least there'd be no need to set decoys in the dark. Dad was asleep in his car when I arrived; we dumped the boat in and got going. The thing about it being such a long day was that I'd started taking caffeine on board in the afternoon, with a shock-dose of three large spoons in my 3pm brew. This was topped up with another coffee at 5 and a final dose at 8.30. So, no surprise then that with a rat in the hut gnawing his way into plywood with a sound like a small chainsaw that I couldn't sleep. Finally at around 3am with iPod connected to earplugs jammed in my ears I nodded off. The fricken alarm clock went at 05.30. This would be a long day.

The hunt started brightly enough with a single being taken by Rick; and while he retrieved 3 birds cupped up and came in from medium height. No excuses really but only 1 died and I wasn't anywhere near hitting the bird I focused on. Later a pair of shoveler visited, the first I'd seen for the season and Rick took the drake bird. And that was it.

The weather just didn't arrive, rather a sluggish waft now and again signalled the change of wind direction from NW to SW, then south. The temperature dropped. Nothing was happening. I waded through to the reserve pond to see if I could rattle up some ducks but no chance on a day without solid wind to cover my noise; I spooked a bunch f teal and saw a few mallards go as well. Decided to sit on a log and see if anything returned; after 30 minutes a spoony dived in with feet extended through the willows and I stood and pulled on what felt like an empty chamber - a misfire. Weird. I sat back down. Then deciding I was just going to fall asleep I walked back to the ponds in time to catch up with Rick as he was leaving. I waited at the pond while dad made us some lunch and he returned soon after. In that time 3 ducks came past at various stages but nothing came to the call.

I was knackered enough that I decided to go back to the toasty warm hut and have a snooze, which I don't like to do normally as it forgoes hunting time. I rattled around in a bit of a dreamlike state, not really awake but not asleep either. I took the boat for a drive to dump water from her scuppers and it was cold; not bitter but chilly.

Back at the pond we decided to change location to take the wind direction into account. Of course this triggered the arrival of the day's only flock, which played around the area before coming over for a look. I managed a bird to get me off a duck as it were.

The evening was cool and with the moon at its blackest the flight was solid but uneventful as the birds drifted inland. The final dinner of the season of steak, mashed carrot/spud and a side of broccoli went down well, but I was so shagged that I crawled onto my bunk and died before the dishes were done.

Andy arrived that evening and I barely woke. The alarm went at 05.30.......... and we were up and at 'em. Today would be quite eventful for me as I was to head north for a shoot after the morning flight. There was almost no wind today and almost no ducks; the grey mentioned above being the only chance. At 09.00 dad and I pulled the pin and had our gear packed in no time. I was on the road before I knew it, back to the smoke to change gear, grab the layout and head north.

Tony. Chewy, Matt and I would be hunting the green pond again; but this time we'd be well hidden in our layouts. I arrived at 1 to find the lads in set-up mode and we got stuck in and made good time with our preps.

4 well hidden layouts

We had a bit of time up our sleeves, so Chewy got the Webber set-up while we had a catch-up on happenings and hunts.

The first pair of ducks didn't arrive until after 3pm; greys which swooped in on the breeze before presenting themselves. First bird down. Next a couple of parries swung by. Then a few more birds. They were wary and required quite a bit of chuckling to get in.

The hunt was outstanding for the number of birds seen vs. birds brought into range. We'd decided to only take birds as they came in feet down to ensure clean kills and it worked a treat. As the sun dropped and the air cooled birds appeared from in front and behind and we had steady shooting on what has been my best evening hunt of the season. Tony and I both love evening hunting; and we were rapt with the results.

Bling - banded birds
The count was 35 to hand, a really solid hunt.

The post match meal was outstanding; Chewy's a hell of a chef and our lamb shoulder roast with roast veges and venison was superb. We sat around a tractor wheel brazier eating and having a few beers.

At one stage  the talk got around to the claimed cycling speed of the Beretta Unico action vs. the Benelli M2... after a few rapid salvos I reckon it was a draw...

Tony with a couple of hands full of greenheads (Photo courtesy Tony Dobbs)

The drive home gave me plenty of time to reflect on the shortened AW season. Still, with another month to go in Northland, there's time for a few more duck hunts this year.

Bring it on.

Decoys washed and drying for storage

This year's swamp ducks have been in fantastic condition


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